Category Archives: Book Reviews

Manga Review: A Bride’s Story Vol. 10

Kaoru Mori is best known for  Emma, an exquisite romance/slice-of-life set in Victorian England. Her latest work to be released in the United States, A Bride’s Story, is also a historical/slice-of-life but is vastly different than Emma. Set in Central Asia in a rural town near the Caspian Sea during the early 19th century, A Bride’s Story revolves around a young woman, Amir, who arrives from a distant village across the mountains to marry Karluk, a boy 8 years her junior. Volume 10 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Karluk has left home to become a man! For four months, he’s off to learn falconry from Amir’s brothers, living with them at their winter camp. As his training commences, what will Karluk learn about himself, and Amir, in the process?

The Review

Now that Pariya is safely married, the focus returns to our original couple, Amir and Karluk. As one would expect from a series called “A Bride’s Story,” their marriage has primarily been told from Amir’s perspective. However, Mori-sensei makes an interesting shift by having Karluk live with his Halgal in-laws for several months.

This is an interesting turn of events considering the trouble Amir’s father brought upon Karluk’s hometown. Or perhaps Karluk used that past offense to pressure his in-laws into accepting his request. At any rate, Mori-sensei doesn’t spend time rehashing hard feelings. Rather, Karluk’s focused on growing stronger as a man so he won’t suffer the same indignity of helplessness that he did during the attack on the town. And Azel and his two sidekicks are quite willing to teach the boy their skills.

Thus, the narrative, which has explored several exclusively female realms, now gives a taste of a male-dominated realm. Karluk’s not a new bride, but he’s leaving the familiarity of home to join a markedly different community. Readers learn about the Halgal’s nomadic lifestyle as Karluk does, and his lessons in archery and falconry are informative as well as a feast for the eyes.

And of course, Karluk is hanging out with these fine male specimens because–even after all these volumes–he still looks like a kid. Which means his well-meaning wife treats him like a kid. The age gap is awkward for Amir, but it’s worse for Karluk. Although the two manage to talk through Karluk’s insecurities, I, like Karluk, hope he catches up to Amir soon.

Then the story shifts back to the luckless Mr. Smith, who has somehow reached Ankara in one piece. As he meets with his English colleague Hawkins, we get a picture of the military tensions flaring up in the region. Considering Mr. Smith’s lack of fighting skills and his recent run-in with bandits, I expected him to take his friend’s advice to return to England. However, he chooses to stay. While the scholarly basis of his resolve is somewhat unbelievable, it doesn’t compare with the astronomical improbability of his unexpected reunion with Talas.

Considering all that has gone wrong for Talas and Smith, both are overdue for some good luck. And obviously readers would also like for the pair to has a happily ever after. However, the previously insurmountable barriers of disapproving relatives and distance vanish in a flash, and suddenly, Talas and Smith are free to be together. While the circumstances that reunite the pair seem just a bit too convenient, uncertainty still shadows their future, especially with war brewing in the region.

Extras include Mori-sensei’s manga style afterword.

In Summary

After multiple scenes of girls embroidering their dowry, how about one of a guy hunting pelts for a bride price? Karluk goes to spend a few months with his in-laws, and Azel and Company teach the boy the skills required of a man in the high plains. Even though the series is called “A Bride’s Story,” it makes a fun shift to the groom’s perspective in Mori-sensei’s tale of Central Asia.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #20

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released the 20th volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

Back Cover Blurb

After a short summer, lively with guests, the bathhouse Spice & Wolf greets the momentary calm that is autumn. The unusually enthusiastic Holo and an exasperated Lawrence want to have their fill of what the mountain-bound Nyohhira has to offer in autumn. After a walk in the mountains the two return to the bathhouse with a basket-full of goodies, and there is a crowd of people at the entrance. “I do not quite know what it might be, but it smells of many beasts.” The reason these sudden, out-of-season guests came to bathhouse Spice & Wolf is-!

The Review

This twentieth volume of the Spice and Wolf series is subtitled Spring Log III, but all four seasons are represented in the book’s five short stories. In addition to showing readers the rhythms of the hot springs village throughout the year, Hasekura-sensei also brings back some old characters in this installment.

The first story “What Falls in the Spring and Wolf” does actually take place in the spring. This is a comical tale involving the annual dilemma of Holo shedding winter fur and another fur-related problem connected to Luward, the commander of the Miyuri Mercenary Company. I never associated animal pheromones with fur before so it took me a while to grasp Luward’s predicament (and even now, I’m not sure what trusty assistant Moizi was doing to handle the situation while Luward went for help). However, the story is a fun way for Luward to return to the story, albeit briefly.

Then “The White Hound and Wolf” goes back a couple years to present a glimpse of the bathhouse’s busy winter season before Myuri left home. The narrator is a church inquisitor investigating rumors about Nyohhira’s newest establishment, and he is predictably suspicious and judgemental. However, he does provide an outsider’s view of the hot springs village and winds up exemplifying how Spice and Wolf charms even the most difficult guest.

After the stranger’s perspective, we get an intimate nighttime moment between the bathhouse owners in “Caramel Days and Wolf.” Not a whole lot of action takes place in this short story, but it is an entertaining character study. Those curious about the outcome of the journal project Lawrence proposed in the previous volume will see some of the results, and Lawrence also gets to show how much better he’s gotten at understanding and handling his wily wife.

Next is “Blue Dreams and Wolf,” the volume’s summertime tale and longest story. The tale starts off with a money related problem—namely a regional coin shortage—and takes on a religious and political bent when the remains of a retainer of a long-forgotten lord are discovered in a cave outside Nyohhira. These are all standard elements of earlier Spice and Wolf adventures, and I anticipated the ex-merchant and wolf to devise a tidy solution to solve everything, just like they did in the past. To my surprise, the story concludes with only a partial resolution to their problems. Instead, however, we get to witness Holo in an unusually vulnerable moment, which offers a different sort of satisfaction.

Finally, “Harvest Autumn and Wolf” has Holo and Lawrence abruptly receiving unusual offseason guests. At first, the story seems as if it will center around the novelty of entertaining a group made up entirely of non-humans like Holo. However, when the guests start telling their versions of Lawrence and Holo’s journey to the north, the focus shifts to the legacy the pair have created. And apparently, that legacy isn’t done. The way the story ends strongly hints that a new road trip is in store for Lawrence and Holo.

By the way, I’ve noticed that the descriptions of Holo’s physical form are somewhat inconsistent in this installment. In places, she’s described as looking like a bride of fourteen or fifteen, which is how I’ve always pictured her. Other places say she resembles a child “around the age of ten.” Perhaps something is lost in the translation, but the latter descriptions jolt me out of the story and make me wonder how Holo can get away with passing herself off as Lawrence’s wife even without the no-aging aspect.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

If you’ve wondered what life is like throughout the year in Lawrence and Holo’s hot springs village, these five standalone stories paint a pretty good picture. The content ranges from an outsider’s first impression of the Spice and Wolf bathhouse to Lawrence’s umpteenth year of dealing with Holo’s shedding tail. There’s no central theme that ties these stories together, but we do get to see how Lawrence and Holo’s matured relationship handles both the light- and heavy-hearted moments.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. #03

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 3. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Hoping to take vengeance for the murder of his childhood friend Sariphi, the young Ilya infiltrates the royal palace. He’s captured, and the King shows him mercy, sparing his life. When Ilya learns that Sariphi herself is still very much alive, he demands her return. Sariphi refuses, only to be kidnapped by Ilya, who intends to bring her back to human territory. The King is then confronted with a dilemma: If he truly wishes for Sariphi’s happiness, is it kinder to pursue her…or to let her be returned to her own people?

The Review

Previously, Anubis had presented Sariphi with a list of requirements in order to gain acceptance as queen. By the end of Volume 2, she accomplished the first task, and I assumed Volume 3 would usher in Task Number Two. Well…I was wrong. Instead of continuing to have Sariphi prove her worth to the skeptics, it takes a big detour by introducing Ilya, a human swordsman who’s in love with Sariphi. In fact, the entire volume is taken up by this young man’s efforts to bring Sariphi back to the human realm.

The sudden appearance of this childhood friend is somewhat jarring. Up till now, Sariphi’s never mentioned human friends of any sort and behaved as if Leonhart’s palace was the first place she experienced kindness. After she got kicked out of the human village in Volume 1, she couldn’t come up with a single person to help her. As such, Ilya feels like an afterthought.

Even if you can get over his abrupt introduction, Ilya’s hold over Sariphi’s heart isn’t strong enough to result in a real love triangle. The past that the two humans share do cause Leonhart emotional angst, but it’s equivalent to Sariphi’s self-doubt during the beast princess arc. Sariphi cares about Ilya, but she’s not attracted to him. In fact, even though Ilya’s love is patently clear to everyone else, Sariphi is too innocently dense to recognize it until he bluntly tells her halfway through the volume.

Because Sariphi and Leonhart’s bond is too strong for Ilya to create genuine romantic tension, Tomofuji-sensei gives him a tortured past to stir things up. If Leonhart is the broody restrained type, Ilya is the broody hothead. While Ilya’s personal tragedies arouse some sympathy and also shed light on human prejudices against beasts, his temper results in him roughing up Sariphi more than once, and I am not a fan of men manhandling their supposed love interests. As such, when the arc comes to a close, I’m quite happy to see Ilya go.

Extras include embedded author’s notes and the bonus manga, “The Beast Princess and the Regular King.”

In Summary

The story shifts from subjecting Sariphi to magical trials to putting Leonhart through the emotional wringer. The introduction of a human boy in love with Sariphi means Leonhart gets subjected to the same insecurities Sariphi suffered when the beast princesses showed up. Watching two guys compete over a girl usually adds excitement to a romance, but Ilya clearly never stands a chance of winning Sariphi’s affections so it falls short.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #03

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 03 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Has Tanya finally done it!? The cushy office desk job assignment she’s been waiting for at the Military University is finally hers to enjoy. That is…until there’s a hiccup in her assignment!

The Review

With the third volume of The Saga of Tanya the Evil, we reach the end of the content covered in the anime. This installment also provides a much more detailed account of the fall of the Republican homeland than is depicted in the TV series. In the anime, the Republican Army’s defeat gets presented as a series of rapid action scenes that take only about half an episode. In the novel, however, we get all the nitty-gritty of Zettour and Rudensdorf convincing the imperial brass of their plan, Tanya’s thoughts as she speeds deep into enemy territory at Mach 1.5, and her anguish when the Empire fails to end the war. Most interestingly, the narrative includes an unwitting blow to a hidden spy complex that was completely excluded from the anime. Although I can see how production constraints would result in this detail getting cut, the Commonwealth’s espionage activities lends the novel a juicier political landscape.

Unfortunately, these intriguing additional layers are presented in Zen-sensei’s particular storytelling so it does take work to interpret the confusing parts and stamina to get through the dry and repetitive ones. As in previous volumes, a lack of setting details and dialogue tags in scene openers meant that I sometimes had to read a couple pages into the scene before I figured out which characters and which place the narrative had shifted to. For instance, Zen-sensei includes a conversation between angelic beings in the heavenly realms, and it wasn’t until I was over two pages into the scene that I realized there were more than two characters involved in the conversation. Also, the beings converse about taking action in the mortal world, but even after rereading the scene three times, I still don’t understand what they are plotting.

By the way, this angelic conversation is the first glimpse of the divine that we’ve gotten since Volume 1, and it’s the only one in Volume 3. Although Tanya’s rebellion against God is what caused her current predicament and she spouts plenty of venom against him, God doesn’t actually appear in the narrative much. However, that’s actually fine because Tanya’s personal circumstances and the geopolitical situation contain more than enough conflict to keep the plot interesting.

The last third of the book is devoted to the Southern Campaign. The anime ends with the 203rd’s arrival on the Southern Continent, but this volume dives into the imperial army’s conflict against the Commonwealth and the remnants of the Republican forces. A new character, General von Romel, gets introduced as the head of this campaign and a master of maneuver warfare. While I’m not certain whether he is intended to be a tribute to Germany’s Desert Fox, he does provide a fresh perspective on Tanya that the generals at Imperial HQ lack.

Extras include the map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

After reading this volume, my general impression is that Carlo Zen has created a truly fascinating multi-layered plot—and I can’t wait to read the manga version of it. As with the previous volumes, his prose continues to demand quite a bit of effort on the part of readers in order to visualize settings and characters and to comprehend all the military and political forces at work. However, those willing to continue to investing time and energy in this series will be rewarded with Tanya’s gripping struggle for survival as her country spirals toward a world war.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 16

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 16! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Life never seems to get easier for Handa-sensei in this funny, heartwarming slice-of-life series!

The Review

Handa may be the main character, but Hiroshi steals the spotlight for most of these chapters. This installment even includes sketches of Hiroshi at different ages in between chapters. So if you’re a fan of the village’s “ordinary” teenager, you won’t want to miss this volume.

It begins with graduation day at Hiroshi’s school, in which Yoshino-sensei uses the four-panel style she used for the Handa-kun series. And in the midst of parting words from educators, well-wishes from younger students, commemorative photos, and other classic graduation moments, Rina Tajima struggles to make a love confession to Hiroshi. However, Hiroshi is extraordinarily dense for an ordinary person, and Rina’s attempts to express her feelings get misinterpreted time and again. For those who enjoyed the comic miscommunications of the Handakun manga, Act. 115: ”Hiroshi Graduates” offers the same flavor of humor.

The book then delivers two brief, silly chapters about Handa and the village kids before shifting the focus to dads. Although it begins with Handa senior’s latest calligraphy piece, Act. 118 turns into a joint reflection between Handa and Hiroshi about their fathers. Then Act. 119 takes it a big step further with Handa pondering Naru’s relationship with her father as Yuuichirou Kotoishi mails a steady stream of one-line messages to the young calligrapher. We only got one glimpse of Yuuichirou before, and his postcards don’t provide any additional solid information about him although they do confirm his quirky personality. However, the mail exchange does prompt Handa to ask Hiroshi about Naru’s mom (something I’ve been wondering about this entire series). While Hiroshi also doesn’t have any concrete facts to offer, his reply does confirm that none of the villagers—with the possible exception of Naru’s grandpa—knows the true circumstances behind Naru’s origins.

Then Hiroshi retakes the spotlight with a barf-inducing roadtrip to a local landmark and finally his grand exit via ferry. Departures generally spark memories, and we get lots of anecdotes—both funny and fond—as friends and family give Hiroshi a ticker tape style send off. Personally, I’ve liked Hiroshi a lot, and I’m sad to see the village’s most level-headed member go.

Extras include bonus manga, translation notes, translated advertisements for Barakamon related merchandise, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

Like so many small town kids, Hiroshi’s been fixin’ to leave for the big city once he’s graduated, and that moment has arrived. Although the long-suffering teenager has gotten the short end of the stick time and again, these chapters do show how well-regarded he is among family and friends. So amid Hiroshi’s aspirations for the future are fond memories and comical last-minute attempts to make memories before he leaves home.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 9

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 9. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Prince Licht once again finds himself caught between his role as a prince and his desire to have some fun in his life. How will he react when the count offers his assistance?

The Review

Volume 8 ended with what looked to be the beginning of an extended story about Licht. As it turns out, this arc actually involves all our four princelings, plus it continues beyond Volume 9. This is a refreshing change from the episodic pace that the series has fallen into. However, the plot does build on the information and events of those single-chapter stories.

Volume 9 begins with Count Rosenberg once more slithering around Licht. The count definitely has the air of a villain, but his motives for meddling in the affairs of the younger princes as of yet remain unknown. Eldest prince Eins views his brothers with such contempt that it seems unlikely Rosenberg’s acting on his orders. As such, the mystery of the count’s true objective brings an air of intrigue to this volume.

Licht, however, has the sense not to trust the count, especially since he’s already gotten burned before. When changes with Cafe Mitter Meyer inspire the youngest prince to live in town, he’s careful not to accept Rosenberg’s easy deal for a place to stay. Instead, Licht goes so far as to limit his budget to his earnings at the cafe. Much like the time he was forced to spend the night at the cafe, Licht is confronted with the difficulties of life outside the palace as he struggles to form a plan for independence. But Licht has grown as a character and displays newfound fortitude as he seeks his father’s permission to leave.

This, of course, causes an uproar among the other princes. Not surprisingly, the most outspoken is straitlaced Bruno. But just when you’re expecting Bruno to begrudgingly accept Licht’s decision, he goes far and beyond mere acceptance. As a result, Licht’s decision has a kind of domino effect in the palace. Akai-sensei looks like she’s setting the stage for something big, and I eagerly await the next installment.

Extras include bonus manga celebrating the anime adaption and first page printed in color.

In Summary

The manga completely diverges from the anime with Licht choosing to devote himself to Cafe Mitter Meyer rather than compete for the throne. His decision sends shockwaves through the palace, but the resulting repercussions take the princes in a surprising direction. Between lots of character development and hints of someone acting in the shadows, Akai-sensei does an excellent job keeping readers engaged.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #04

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 04 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Zero candidates was Tanya’s ultimate key to forestalling a new project that would send her to the front lines. But plans backfire after waves of applications from fresh, promising soldiers flood the office. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, the Elinium 95’s mind contamination begins to take effect on the young captain who-before realizing it-is now the official leader of a battalion?!

The Review

A recurring theme of this series is that, in spite of Tanya’s best efforts, nothing ever goes the way she wants. Thus, upon graduation from war college, instead of the cushy desk job she’s been striving for, her orders are to form a new mage battalion destined for the front. Shortly thereafter, her ploy to scare off prospective candidates results in a literal avalanche of applicants. Despite this continuously repeated pattern of attempt and failure, it doesn’t get old. That’s partly because the manga, unlike the novel, allows readers to see the disconnect between Tanya’s thoughts and those of the people around her, and mangaka Tojo skillfully uses those situations for maximum hilarity. And it’s partly because Tanya’s refusal to let fate (and Being X) get the better of her leads to amazing creativity.

In the case of Volume 4, most of those creative efforts are aimed toward a nightmare of a training regimen designed to weed incompetents out of Tanya’s battalion (i.e., her personal shield). The manga, like the anime, takes this opportunity to show off Tanya’s wicked side, and because the novel doesn’t provide much detail on Tanya’s boot camp, the manga and anime each have different versions of the pint-sized commander kicking her subordinates into shape. However, the manga version goes into more detail about the rationale behind Tanya’s intense regimen, and the manga’s explanations of the different combat formulas are vastly clearer than what’s provided by the novel.

Tojo-sensei definitely has a talent for taking what’s in the novel and bringing it up to the next level. In Chapter 11, Tanya’s concerns about her stunted physical development take her to the doctor. In the novel’s account of the doctor’s visit, we’re so much in Tanya’s head that all we see is her worry. The manga, on the other hand, shows how the adults perceive Tanya’s concerns, which makes for a livelier and more entertaining scene. Tojo-sensei has been doing this consistently, and I look forward to more of her work.

Extras include battle log so far, character introductions, detailed glossary of terms after each chapter, and interviews with cover designer Toshimitsu Numa and scriptwriter Satoshi Oshio. While the interviews are interesting, Yen Press used a teeny font for those pages, so reading is hard on the eyes.

In Summary

Those who’ve missed watching troops in life-or-death situations will once more get to see imperial soldiers fight to stay alive. And the funny thing is that they’re not even on the front. Dark humor abounds as little Tanya puts battalion candidates through a modern-era Hell Week. Even if you’re familiar with the novel or anime, the manga provides such a rich, detailed, and entertaining perspective of Tanya’s messed up life that you should still pick it up.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 3

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume  3! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

They say idiots don’t get colds, but Kai sure has been love-sick over Riko. There’s a fireworks festival around the corner, but instead of asking Riko along, he decides to just not go! When Class Representative work keeps them late at school anyway, it looks like the perfect chance for Kai to collect his feelings and confess…With summer vacation approaching and fireworks booming overhead, will the feelings Kai’s precariously kept under wraps finally explode?

The Review

Summer means festivals and fireworks, so this installment has our teenagers struggling with tender feelings against a nighttime backdrop of yukatas and food stalls. The apple bunny revelation at the conclusion of the previous volume looked like it might bring a major turnabout in Riko’s feelings toward Kai, but the shift in her perspective is more subtle. Plus, her eyes remain locked on Suwa-sensei. As such, the rationale Fujisawa-sensei contrives for the pair to end up at the fireworks festival can’t be called a date, but it does give Kai an excuse to hold her hand and be embarrassed about it.

Things are moving slow with our main couple, and Fujisawa-sensei contrasts it with an actual date between pint-sized Miki and shy Kiyo. This pair was labeled “The Pure Ones” in the previous volume, and innocence characterizes their interactions as Miki struggles for the right way to ask Kiyo to be his girlfriend. While the date does include the festival trope of problematic footwear, the characters are so sweet and earnest that they are cute to watch.

As for the other pairs, we catch a glimpse of Tarou with a harem, but the most tantalizing tidbit is a photo that school reporter Ayumi snaps of Takaya and a girl who’s supposedly his older sister. It’s brief, but Takaya’s reaction to the photo insinuates that the quietest of the four boys has a complicated romantic situation.

Then the focus returns to Riko and Kai. At this point, Kai’s attempts to convince Riko of his earnest intentions have made absolutely no headway. With Riko automatically rebuffing his every advance, it’ll take something other than Kai’s own efforts to break Riko’s barriers, and it arrives in the form of an announcement from Suwa-sensei. The plot has been leading up to this development, so it’s not a huge surprise. However, Riko’s game plan for getting over her long-time crush is odd, and her female friends’ support of her strategy feels even odder.

Extras include embedded character profiles, story-thus-far, author’s notes, 3-page afterword manga, and translation notes.

In Summary

It’s the summer festival installment of Hatsu*Haru! There are lots of images of fireworks, yukatas, and festival stalls, but not a lot of progress for Kai as he continues to pursue the one girl who doesn’t want anything to do with him. Fujisawa-sensei is making the former playboy’s romantic journey a slow, agonizing crawl, but she makes up for it by giving readers the satisfaction of watching Miki and Kiyo make the leap from friendship to dating.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Mirai

 Mamoru Hosoda is the director of the science fiction films The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. His latest film, Mirai, was released last summer, and Yen Press has released a hard cover translation of the novel adaption. Read on for the review!

Back Cover Blurb

Little Kun isn’t too happy about the latest addition to his family. With the arrival of a new baby sister in the house, he worries his parents may not love him as much as they used to… But when a teenage girl shows up and tells Kun that she is his sister from the future, it may be that there’s more to this new relationship than Kun ever could’ve dreamed!

The Review

Mirai is the novel version of the film directed by Mamoru Hosoda. As of the writing of this review, I have not seen the film, but I have a feeling the pace of the film is markedly different than the novel. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and despite the foreword’s claim that the story is limited to a single house and yard, the main character Kun gets taken to a variety of places, including past, future, and fantastical ones. In addition, trains are key to the book’s imagery, so the certain sections are a litany of Japanese trains. Between the rambling setting descriptions and train details, Hosoda-sensei’s writing makes for a slow read.

It’s also a slow read because the main character is a four-year-old boy with four-year-old problems. Kun lives happily in a uniquely styled house with his parents and dog—until his mom gives birth to a baby sister. Suddenly, Kun is no longer the center of his parents’ universe, and the spoiled little boy does not take it well. However, when Kun feels like his world’s falling apart, a mysterious force in the family courtyard whisks him away for encounters that shift his perspective.

The title Mirai, which is also the name of Kun’s sister, means “future.” However, Kun is more often in the past and present than  the future, and he interacts with many more characters than his sister. In fact, his first courtyard encounter is with an anthropomorphized version of Yukko the family dog, who sneers at the jealous boy because Yukko suffered the same predicament when Kun was born.

Regarding the plot, it’s Kun’s journey to accept his sister as a member of the family. Unfortunately, the overall arc isn’t very strong, and what results is a series of episodes where Kun throws a fit about something (like having to clean up his toys) and the courtyard sends him across space and time to a family member who helps broaden his perspective. It’s like a parent’s dream; whenever a tantrum erupts, a space-time shift takes the brat away for an attitude adjustment so the parents don’t have to discipline the kid themselves.

Despite the time travel aspect, the story is very much a slice-of-life where Kun’s greatest achievement is learning to ride a bicycle and household chores pile up after Kun’s mom returns to work. Unfortunately, those aspects of life aren’t exactly charming, and neither is Kun.  I’m not inclined toward stories about small children to start, and Kun is the type who kicks his dad in the face and hits his newborn sister in the head with a toy train. In the spirit of showing the twists and turns of the family’s heritage, the story does showcase the circumstances of Kun’s World War II era great-grandfather, but even though great-granddad is pretty interesting, he’s not enough to keep the story from bogging down.

Extras include four pages in color including a scene from the movie and foreword.

In Summary

Adjustment to a new sibling is a common event; having a magical courtyard help a bratty kid through that transition is not. The movie is probably a visual feast, but Hosoda-sensei’s lengthy descriptions makes the fantastical elements a tiresome read. Four-year-old Kun himself is tiresome as he throws one tantrum after another, and it makes me want to send him on the bullet train to nowhere.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #03

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 03 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At last, the long-awaited days of tranquility are here! Tanya begins attending war college, where she spends her time feasting in leisure. But who would’ve thought that a conversation with General von Zettour would lead to another turn of events! Will her days of delicious bread and clean bed sheets come to an end?

The Review

After the frontline chaos of the first two volumes, Volume 3 delivers relatively tranquil chapters with Tanya attending college in comfort (mostly). Safely away from the raging battlefield, Tanya enjoys clean sheets, hot food, and the luxury of not being shot at. However, because she is attending war college with other officer candidates, the Empire’s two-front war is never far from mind. Thus, the narrative switches from the life-and-death intensity of Tanya’s individual sorties to a broad and almost scholarly view of global events as the top brass ponder their current situation and where it is headed.

But just because Tanya’s not in the trenches doesn’t mean she’s completely carefree. Elite salaryman that she once was, she’s out to seize every opportunity toward a cushy career path in the rear. And so we get tension of a different sort as she tries to impress Brigadier General Von Zettour of the Service Corps and later convinces a rival to drop out of the promotion track at the war college. As usual, her results are mixed, and Tojo-sensei does a fine job inserting comedy into scenes by contrasting Tanya’s intentions with the thoughts of those she’s trying to manipulate.

The final chapter in this volume is a glimpse forty years into the future. Although this arc wasn’t included in the amine, it was part of the original novel, and according to the mangaka interview included in Volume 3, Tojo-sensei was keen on incorporating that content into the manga. The events of Tanya’s world have closely followed the history of our world, and Chapter 9 confirms that the Empire will lose as Germany did. However, that chapter is less about the outcome of the war and more about the mysterious imprint Tanya left on history. As such, the flash forward does serve as an enticement to continue reading.

Extras include a detailed glossary of terms after each chapter and a lengthy interview with mangaka Chika Tojo.

In Summary

No aerial battles, trench warfare, or divine encounters in this installment. For anyone who’s wanted Tanya to enjoy civilian life, this is about as ordinary as it gets for our reincarnated salaryman. Tojo-sensei uses this relatively quiet volume to zoom out from individual skirmishes and convey the overall situation of the war instead. It’s a lot of geopolitics and strategy, but Tojo-sensei does a wonderful job—even better than the original novel—of presenting this information in a clear and interesting way.

First published at the Fandom Post.